Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Newly appointed Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy adjusting to life on campus

By Katie Landeck

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Kumble Subbaswamy is still learning how to be a Minuteman.

The new chancellor, who moved into his home on top of Orchard Hill last week, has yet to learn the little-known University of Massachusetts school song “When Twilight Shadows Deepen” or even the popular “Go UMass” cheer. But he’s working on it.

“It’s like being a freshman,” Subbaswamy said.

Like many newcomers, Subbaswamy, a physicist by training, is focused on making connections at the school and in the area.

In his eyes, his job is to be “the chief advocate, chief cheerleader and chief fundraiser” for the University. He feels it’s important to be in touch with the faculty, staff and student body in order to understand what’s working well and what’s not.

“One of the first things Chancellor Subbaswamy did when arriving on campus was meet with student leaders,” said new Student Government Association President Akshay Kapoor in an email. “He really wanted to understand and hear the student perspective on the issues facing them.”

Subbaswamy and his wife, Mala Subbaswamy, both spent time in the residential areas talking to students and parents while they moved into the dorms. He also plans to regularly meet with students at campus eateries during the school year.

“I want students to feel appreciated and nourished,” he said.

After routinely meeting this summer, Kapoor said he already has faith in Subbaswamy.

“Dr. Subbaswamy is able to connect with people in such a different light and he truly cares deeply not only about students, but also the direction of the university,” said Kapoor. “He is very approachable and can best be described as the ‘smartest and best listener in the room.’”

Making himself at home

Like the freshmen who’ve spent the last week settling into their first dorm room, Subbaswamy – who goes by the nickname “Swamy” – is settling into life at the University. He lived in Leverett until a few weeks ago, and said he is already thrilled with his new home, the Hillside House, which looks over the University.

“It’s so beautiful,” he said. “It will be a great place for entertaining.” He has plans to eventually move his whole family in, but right now his daughter is currently enrolled in medical school at Kentucky University and his son is a freshman at Vanderbilt University. Mala, his wife, is living with him there now.

A family man, Subbaswamy enjoys playing ping-pong with his son. He also enjoys tennis.

As for his more scholarly hobbies, the chancellor – who was appointed to the position in a unanimous vote by the UMass Board of Trustees on March 26 – enjoys reading and following politics.

Since his chancellorship started on July 1, the native of India has been getting a feel for his new home by not only meeting with the vice chancellors, deans and student leaders, but also getting a feel for the valley as a place.

He’s also an advocate for physical health and has already hiked the Robert Frost trail, where he “experienced an instant download” of all the poetry he read.

He has also spent some time exploring Amherst, a town he is quickly coming to enjoy.

Subbaswamy said Amherst has an “energy that comes from having a lot of young people around.  It already has the feel of a town where education and culture matters a great deal.”

This is the type of environment Subbaswamy says he thrives in.

A bright future

Subbaswamy envisions an ambitious and bright future for the flagship University. He sees the University becoming one of the top public research universities in the world. To do this, Subbaswamy, who considers himself to be a problem solver, plans to isolate the problems on campus and then fix them.

“A parallel part of my character is when I see things that need changing or improvement, I get involved,” Subbaswamy said.

Subbaswamy has already started working on the University’s finances. He spent part of the summer listening to legislators, the UMass Foundation Board, deans, vice chancellors and the SGA about their financial concerns.

He said one of his plans is to bring external funds to the campus from grants, the state and fundraising efforts.

A focus on students

Subbaswamy hopes to capitalize on the school’s 150th anniversary in 2013. He said he wants to reconnect an alumni network that has been lost in recent years.

But Subbaswamy isn’t entirely focused on alumni.

“Students are the main part of this school,” he said. “They are why we are here.”

Subbaswamy said he hopes to help foster programs that will enrich students’ campus life and help them to graduate in four years.  He said he recognizes that the transition from high school to college can be a daunting one, and hopes to alleviate the stress through advising and orientation programs.

About the academics

It was a high school teacher who inspired Subbaswamy’s passion for learning.

A physics teacher taught him to love both physics – which he went on to receive a doctorate in from Indiana University Bloomington – and education.  After completing his undergraduate and graduate work at Bangalore University in India, he pursued his doctorate at Indiana University, where he would later become the dean of arts and science.

Subbaswamy received his first taste in an educator’s role as a teaching assistant as a graduate student.

“I was fortunate enough to have had the opportunity to get into a teaching and research career,” he said.

Since then, he has worked at the University of Miami as a dean of the College of Arts and Science and in several capacities at the University of Kentucky. Now, he’s excited to start his new job at UMass.

“UMass is a special place among special places,” he told freshmen at last week’s convocation.

Katie Landeck can be reached at [email protected] Nancy Pierce can be reached at [email protected]

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